Steam rising from dented kettles; the lingering scent of crisping bacon; frosted dew crusting neatly trimmed grass, and long Autumn shadows marking the run up Hailwood Hill. There’s always beauty and bustle in the Brands Hatch paddock but once a year, as October wanes, its heart beats faster as the Formula Ford Festival, together with the craic of Irish motor sport, takes over all 250 acres of this iconic corner of Kent.

My first Festival was back in 1992. The winner that year was a young and fearless Jan Magnussen. I watched in wonder as the previously unknown teenager scythed past all before him. Daring and determined, he braked late and hard, easing his Duckhams-liveried Van Diemen around the gripless outside-line of Paddock Hill bend. It was a move I would also often try, but seldom with the same success.

I was hooked: The Festival had long been a showcase for rising talent and set against the contrast of the ever more technically-reliant slicks and wings machinery of Formula One and Formula Three, it was clear that this wasn’t just great racing, it was pure competition.

Mark Webber, the Van der Ende brothers, Jenson Button, Anthony Davidson, Scott Malvern and Joey Foster were just a few of those I saw claim the winners’ garland, whilst Michael Vergers, Dan Wheldon, James Courtney and Adam Carroll numbered those I cheered but only to the lower podium steps.

It’s winner takes-all. There’s no glory or solid points scores for coming second or third. And whilst Formula Ford might no longer feature on the acknowledged career ladder taken by budgeted young drivers in their attempt to progress towards F1, it’s a testament to the remarkable racing these cars still produce that a growing number of a new generation are still learning their trade the old way – getting their hands dirty in the awning as they prepare and set-up the cars, and learn to manage race-craft that relies solely on the working of tyres and suspension.

Formula Ford has never been about household names, but it could still be about making them.

Here are some of our favourite images from the weekend.

    • They battled in their heat, and again through the semi final. On both previous occasions, two-time Festival winner, Niall Murray (2013, 2016) came out on top. But in 2018 Josh Smith, who only started Formula Ford racing in 2016, served his apprenticeship well. Despite two lengthy red-flag stoppages and failing light, the teenager from Cumbria never let Murray’s gearbox out of his sight. Crossing the line to commence the final lap, he showed his intent, forcing the leader into a compromised defence, resulting in the Irishman losing his line on the run-up to Druids. Third-place man Ollie White also tried his luck but it was Smith who made the move work, holding-on to take the win with just 3-tenths separating the podium places.

    • Race-leader Murray used all of his savvy to keep the chasing pack behind. He won his semi-final by nearly 2 seconds and his heat by a far more comfortable margin. Only Smith was able to successfully challenge him during the whole weekend.

    • There were pole positions for the three heats from Michael Eastwell, Neil MacLennan and Josh Smith. Eastwell’s lap of 50.173 was the fastest of all, whilst Murray’s time of 50.506 seconds in his heat was the quickest in racing.

    • The two Matts shone as each proved they have the pace and determination to build strong careers. Cowley, already a double US F1600 Champion and recipient of the SCCA President’s Cup, arrived back in the UK with little seat time but was straight on the pace to win his heat, be placed 2nd in his semi’ and finish 4th in the final.
      Round-Garrido is this year’s Northern Irish F1600 Champion, a feat that has already earned him a much-coveted ‘Road to Indy’ shoot-out ticket. Contact in his semi’ could have easily seen him out of contention for a place in the final but a spirited drive, despite obvious damage and handling issues delivered a result worthy of a star of the future.

    • 2017 (and 2003) Festival winner, Joey Foster, keeps a watchful eye on the opposition. Last year’s runner-up (and Road to Indy shoot-out winner), Keith Donegan, showed plenty of pace but failed to make the impact he had hoped for.

    • Alan Davidson in the Mondiale M89S was a worthy winner of the Historic final. For well over a decade, Scott Mansell has been one of the fastest men in British motor sport, including holding the outright Brands Hatch lap-record of 38.032 seconds, set in his 2004 EuroBOSS season in a Benneton B197. This year, he was made to work harder than ever in his quest for ‘Classic’ honours. Seen here being chased by Benn Tilley and Rick Morris, Tilley’s challenge won the day by 2/100ths, confirming the young champion’s status as another driver with a great future ahead of him.

    • It was a bad day at the office for Rory Smith. And an ‘unsaved’ one for Brazilian Adriano Medeiros.

    • The Festival isn’t only about rising talent; it celebrates the very finest, long-serving racers too. Rick Morris is often referred to as the man who beat Senna, yet nearly forty years-on and he’s still pushing hard and still showing the kind of pace that returns him to the podium time and time again.
      Stuart Kestenbaum has only been racing Formula Fords for a mere 35 years. He took the Star of Mallory title in 1988 and was still winning 29 years later (Classic Class B Champion of 2017). Here he is in one of the most beautiful of all Formula Fords, the Crossle 16F.

    • It’s not just young talent from Britain and Ireland that seeks to make a mark at the Festival. Well-backed entries from overseas include teams from the USA and Canada, represented by drivers such as F1600’s Jake Craig and Canadian Formula 1600 champion, Guillaume Archambault.

    • ‘Unfinished business’: Vincent Radermecker, once a rising-star of the Super-Tourer era, returned to Britain with teammate, Geoffroy Horion, hoping to finally deliver on the potential he always knew he had. Sadly, he was way too soon in starting the ‘last chance’ race and so despite crossing the line to what had seemed a long-overdue win, the 10-second penalty imposed by the stewards left the Belgian facing a long and unfulfilled drive home.

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Images: Steve Hindle (The Black Stuff).